From the new series on Heather Doney’s blog Becoming Worldly – Voices of Sister-Moms
“Maia” and “Electra” are the pseudonyms chosen by the authors, two sisters raised in a Quiverfull family, as part of the “Voices of Sister-Moms” series here on Becoming Worldly.
If you have a Quiverfull “sister-Mom” story you would like to share, email me at becomingworldly (at) gmail (dot) com.
Maia’s Story: My Life As A Sister-Mom
My family started out in a pretty normal way, but where most families stop creating new children and start raising them, my parents forged ahead having more. I don’t know what came first, but my parents got excited about having a lot of children (being Quiver-full, as the Bible says), homeschooling, and being very literal Christians.
I am child #2, the oldest daughter. My daily activities were pretty normal until I was 8, I was asked to do a few chores but not too many, and we were somewhat effectively homeschooled until that point, and my parents were ramping up their enthusiasm for radical religion. Then came child #6. I was 8 years old. It was explained to me by my father that my mother had cervical cancer during the pregnancy and was at risk of losing the baby, and therefore I needed to step up and help. She was born in May, as I understand it was a difficult labor, and my father’s way of parenting during my mother’s recovery time was to lock us outside to fend for ourselves except for meals. This was for about several weeks. It is important to note that this is also when my father stopped working, as he interpreted some of the ATI based teachings to mean that it was improper for him to be under a woman’s authority in a workplace.
When we were allowed back, my life was totally different. Overnight I learned how to cook meals for my family and clean bathrooms, etc, under the tutelage of my father. That was also the end of effective homeschooling. Child #7 came when I was 9, and child #8 when I was 11. I was present for both these births, one in the hospital and one at home. In that time my parents fled the province to escape from a CAS investigation. #7 and #8 were mine. #8 was born with the cord wrapped around his neck, and did not breath for almost ten minutes after birth. My father was still in hide-from-CAS mode, so he didn’t seek medical care for him until day 3 when he started seizuring. So I learned how to administer medication to a baby. I got them dressed and fed them and loved them and rocked them knew what they liked and didn’t like, and they called me mom. My parents encouraged all of this except if they heard the boys call me mom I got in trouble (I didn’t discourage them from saying that, it made me happy).
When I was 13 child #9 came along. By then I was very established as a mini-mom. My parents didn’t work but would frequently leave the house in the morning and come back late at night – to this day I have no idea where they went – so I would cook, serve and clean up three meals a day, care for an epileptic toddler, care for a new infant, and teach child #6 and #7 the best I could. When they didn’t leave the house they would often lock themselves up in their bedroom and yell at each other. When child #9 was an infant, my mother went to have gall bladder surgery and then went to recuperate a family member’s home.
There was some help in the house through some of these times, but I was still the trophy oldest daughter and my father was proud of showing other people how much work I did in the home. One day a young woman who was over was asked by my father if she also fed meals to her younger siblings when they were infants, and she said no. So I didn’t have to do that when we had company anymore, but still in private. I believe that my mother had a lot of health problems and post-partum depression, and that is part of why so much of daily life fell to me to run, and I wouldn’t even mind it so much if it wasn’t that she completely denies that this took place, and thinks she was home that whole time and cooking, etc. I know for sure that some of what my parents were doing when away from home revolved around conservative ideology and reading parenting books, because one day they came home with a set of dowel rods in various sizes and tried them out on my younger siblings to see what was the most effective size for spanking each child. I believe this comes from the Pearl parenting books.
Leaving my siblings when I was 17 to go to school and pursue my own life was the hardest thing I ever did. My three youngest siblings still live with my mom to this day and they have no understanding of the feelings I have about them based on what I did when they were infants/toddlers. I pushed so hard to get them into school, coming over at night to confront my father and pressure my mother into signing so my next youngest siblings could go to school, which she eventually did. When I moved out, sister-mom duties immediately shifted to Electra, the next girl in the family, who is #4.
Electra’s Story: Mothering and Untreated Illness
My life started out just as my parents’ belief in the quiverfull/patriarchal system began. I had two older brothers and an older sister, and my parents had just started homeschooling them when I was born. By the time I was 6, I had two younger sisters and another brother. Another younger sister and brother were born by the time I reached 8 years old. I, being the second oldest daughter, didn’t have quite as many responsibilities as my older sister Maia. However, I was very aware of her important servant role in our home. She was responsible for meals, taking care of the children, and all the cleaning, as well as getting us to do our endless chores. She was supposed to home school us, as my parents, both unemployed, were either out “somewhere” during the day, or in their bedroom fighting over authority. She also was in charge of the discipline, and expected to submit to the authority of my older brothers. She would give some of this authority to us younger kids, to delegate some of the responsibility. I had some duties too, I was responsible for making my younger siblings beds, doing all the dishes, sweeping the floor, among other cleaning duties, and being full time baby sitter for my youngest brother, who had medical issues. If he got out of line, I was the one punished.
Our home school, like many others, cannot really be defined as education. It was more a cover so that my parents could do as they pleased. When my older sister went to high school when I was 12, I was expected to take on her servant role wholeheartedly, and enjoy it. I tried for a while, but I became very ill, with pneumonia. I have long term respiratory issues because my parents chose not to vaccinate for whooping cough and I had it when I was five and was ill for months with little to no medical care and as a result have had pneumonia many times, only receiving medical care one time. I was sick in bed for over two months, during which time my parents marriage continued to fall apart, and my role as a sister-mom completely failed.
There was a lot of physical abuse in the home, and when my older sister moved out the physical abuse loosened up a bit. The emotional abuse and blame game however, was intensified. It was flavour of the week, and my parents blamed whoever they were most annoyed with for the changes happening to our family. I rarely talked to my parents at this point, and most of our interactions were them rebuking me for for not respecting my role in the house, by having friends they didn’t approve of and hanging out with them behind their backs, and me trying to reason with them. It grew to the point that by the time I got better, I was rarely speaking to my parents, simply doing my duties as a daughter and then disappearing to my room. Luckily for me, I was enrolled into high school later that year, unknown to my father, and my illness and inability to properly mother my siblings was one of the many determining factors in their eventual separation.
Soon after my parents were separated the power struggle at home with my mother trying to maintain control ended with me moving out to a friend’s house. Over the next four years, I worked at getting my high school diploma while moving from couch to couch, living with my mother off and on. Eventually I cut her off altogether along with my father, and am now able to live a life free of power struggles, control, and cloistering. With a stable job and income, heading to university while living independently I can definitely say, it was difficult to find a life for myself in the normal world after being a sister mom. I worry about my five younger siblings. They are still with my mother, and her rules and problems with neglect have gotten much better, as she is now under close supervision by CPS, but I sincerely hope they somehow get out of there, and are able to make a life for themselves like I did.
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Heather Doney blogs at https://becomingworldly.wordpress.com/
Heather was raised Fundamentalist Evangelical in South Louisiana until she was 13. At that tender age she was introduced to the world at large and starting her journey away from home schooling environment.
Her blog is primarily about Quiverfull lifestyle, homeschooling culture and politics, child welfare, PTSD, education, poverty, big families, gender issues, and maybe a few bits of south Louisiana or New England culture and a recipe or craft project or two thrown in, just for fun.
She is a member of NLQ’s The Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network
NLQ Recommended Reading …
‘Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich
‘Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland
‘Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce